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Issue 19 - A special relationship

Whisky Magazine Issue 19
November 2001

 

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A special relationship

Michael Jackson takes a reflective look at Japan, Scotland and whisky

If you ask me, any civilised society has the potential to enjoy alcoholic drinks made from grains. When human beings stopped being hunter-gatherers and began to become civilised they did so in order to grow grain and make beer, which is the first stage in the production of whisky. If the Sumerian brewers were still with us they might be producing malts with a
lapis lazuli finish.

When grain-based alcoholic drinks spread to western Europe, they were made from barley. When they spread east, there was rice fermented to make sake in China and Japan, and distilled into shochu. This ancient history always comes to mind when people in Europe talk about Japanese interest in western beer and whisky as though it were somehow incongruous. If a country grows grain and has centuries of experience in fermentation and distillation, it seems pretty well qualified to me.
Fermentation is big in Japan. If you love the sights, sounds and smells of fermentation, visit a soy sauce brewery next time you are in Japan. If you want to prove to your Japanese hosts that you are a man, eat some natto, a form of fermented soy that is even more faecal smelling than Asia's notoriously malodorous fruit the durian.

Natto, or even the ubiquitous wasabi, also gives the lie to the curious notion that the Japanese eat only light foods (and can therefore enjoy only light whiskies). I don't swallow the notion of a national taste but I do believe that the comfort offered by a staple grain enters the collecti...

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